Bad news out of Libya has become the norm since the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi. However, recent events are proving that the situation in Libya is worsening.
In early March, Islamist militias – rumoured to be Islamic State (IS) affiliates – managed to overrun and seize the Bahi and Mabruk oil fields. The Mabruk oil field, 500 km from Tripoli, is one of Libya’s biggest oil fields. An oil industry spokesperson admitted that the militias were also advancing towards the Dahra oil field.
The capture of these two oil fields and possibly the Dahra field is calamitous for the prospect of a Libyan revival in the post-Gaddafi era. With control of oil revenues, the militias will find it easier to buy political support within Libya, increasing their political legitimacy in the eyes of the Libyan population.
This will further marginalize the UN-backed government in Tobruk and minimize any chances of it recapturing and holding Tripoli. Also compounding the Tobruk government’s problems is that their only real ally, the West, is highly unlikely to intervene in any meaningful way and help the government regain power.
Consequences of state failure
With the militias strengthened by new-found oil wealth, Libya has gotten even closer to the precipice of state failure. Not only does the Tobruk government no longer have the oil revenues necessary to rebuild the shattered economy, but it also currently has little domestic support.
Conversely, it appears that the militias have solidified their hold on large parts of the country and have taken on the role of the government in many places. Yet, while it might appear oddly beneficial to have the militias working together and providing some security, this arrangement will collapse in the near future because of the ideological, religious and tribal factors in Libya that are still too strong to sustain a militia coalition.
With the government becoming increasingly irrelevant, various militia factions will escalate attacks against each other in attempts to consolidate power. The results will be a further descent into civil war that will continue to destroy the few remaining institutions and the infrastructure essential for running the country.
A bleak outlook
With Libya now closer than ever to failed state status, the outlook for Libya’s future and the region have dimmed considerably. Despite the country’s considerable oil wealth, the worsening civil war and loss of control of many oil fields has ensured that foreign direct investment will slow to a trickle and Libya’s oil industry will continue to deteriorate.
Without oil revenue, Libya has no chance at rebuilding, while the militias will be strengthened through black market oil revenue, further weakening the government.
Libya’s collapse into a failed state will also have grave consequences for the region. The lawless areas of Libya have already allowed a host of foreign jihadi organizations to establish themselves in the cities and rural areas throughout the country. This has led to further violence and ideological killings that will only worsen as Libya disintegrates.
Most troubling is the rise of an IS-affiliated group that has used Libya as a base for its international operations. It is obvious to see Libya’s potential trajectory as resembling that of Afghanistan before 9/11, when the Taliban hosted Al-Qaeda, allowing it to launch attacks throughout the globe and igniting a decades-long war with the West.
The latest militia advances in Libya have moved the country one step closer to a failed state and have left many in the region feeling very uneasy. This will allow free rein to jihadi militias who will be able to plan and implement domestic and regional attacks without even cursory interdiction. It is possible that this will unsettle the entire region, increase regional conflict and cause a further decline in regional economic health. The recent bad news in Libya is undoubtedly bad news for all of North Africa.